We arrived in the coastal town of Valparaiso after a short train and bus ride from Santiago. It could have been slightly shorter had we not hopped off at the wrong train station in a panic (nearly leaving camera bag on the train as the doors were shutting!) We had been advised to get off the train at Universidad de Santiago but then five minutes into the trip we heard what sounded like our stop and in a panic rushed off the train only to realise we were at Universidad de Chile (rather than Santiago) station and we had to wait and pay again for the next train to get back on!
When we did arrive in Valparaiso we were dropped at the hectic downtown marketplace where we took a quick trolley bus ride further into Valparaiso to take an ‘ascensor’ (inclinator/funicular) up one of the numerous hills where our hostel was located. We walked to the nearby ascensor only to find out that it was closed (as were many others) and we would instead have to take the stairs – probably wouldn’t have been too bad without our backpacks but that was a serious climb!
We were staying at Hostal Caracol, located in the Bella Vista neighbourhood, a pretty area of Valparaiso with a panoramic view over the town. Once we had recovered from the walk up to our hostel we decided to walk back down and explore some of the other neighbourhoods. Walking through Valparaiso at the city level is quite the contrast to the vibrant neighbourhoods located on the hills. The streets were dirty and mostly associated with petty theft yet as soon as you climb the hills you are surrounded by brightly painted buildings and cobble stone paths leading to restaurants, museums and galleries. We walked through the Concepcion neighbourhood, an older area of Valparaiso where we took Valparaiso’s oldest ascensor (built in 1883) back to ground level.
On our second day we first walked to the famous Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s house – a 4 story masterpiece located high on the hills of Valparaiso with what he believed to be the best vista, looking over the city he loved. His house was incredible, one of his passions was collecting various eclectic pieces for his house. From every floor and room there was a view to rival the last.
We were fortunate enough to have arrived on the weekend of the urban downhill mountain bike race ‘Cerro Abajo’ which was fantastic to watch. Mountain bike riders from around the world compete in time trials from the top of a hill in Valparaiso and through the streets, riding down stairs, between buildings and on purpose built jumps throughout. The riders do not know the exact track until the day so have only a few trial runs before the main event. As they ride, they dodge energetic locals and a few stray dogs doing as much as they can to avoid incident.
After a long day in the sun we climbed the stairs once more to get our backpack before a taxi ride to the bus station for our night bus to Valdivia. Arriving at the station, a quick check of our belongings would find that the laptop was not with us! I didn’t have it in the back with me and Will couldn’t remember if we had it in the cab or at the hostel so he jumped back in a cab and sped off to the hostel leaving me with the rest of the bags at the bus station. Waiting for Will, it became apparent that perhaps it wasn’t at the hostel either as a good 20 minutes had passed without his return. 5 minutes before our departure time and he comes running into the bus station, laptop in hand – he had gone back to the hostel and on not locating the laptop realised it must have been left in the cab! In what can only be described as very good luck, the cab driver that drove him back to the hostel was the brother of the cab driver who had driven us to the bus station and within minutes they were searching the streets for each other, driving through the curvy roads on the hills and meeting just in time for Will to make the bus back. Relieved but exhausted from the stress, we boarded our bus… perhaps it takes a while to get back into that ‘must check all belongings always’ frame of mind.